The first time Alex had played his new game, he had actually thought that it might even beat the satisfaction he got from killing Liz. It didn't, not quite, but it was a very close second. As with many things Alex enjoyed, the planning was almost as satisfying as the actual event.
Alex was driving east on Highway 520, heading out past Bellevue and into Redmond, heading into the less populated end of Snohomish County. He hadn't visited his storage locker in months. He usually accessed it after hours with his private key card and would spend some time with the few mementos he kept there. Today he would be using it for its designated purpose, storing the belongings that he would not need. As he drove he thought about the first great opportunity that his work here in Seattle had provided him with.
Robert Lloyd McConnell was a Vietnam veteran. He was an alcoholic who kept falling out of recovery, he'd been in prison twice, and he was largely broke. He had regular bouts of moderate depression. He lived by himself in a house that his parents had left him and he got by with irregular employment when he was sober and petty crime when he was off the wagon. He was not the first patient that had described a the notion of suicide, but he was the first one that Alex believed. He was perfect.
While Alex did kill, he made a very important distinction with what he did. If all he was interested in was taking lives, he could do so much more dramatically or efficiently. Such activity would, of course, draw a lot more attention to him, which was one of the reasons he avoided it. Mostly, though, it was the personal contact.
There was no limit to the ways you could kill a person. Once he had walked past the line for a food bank and thought that all it would require was a small application of the correct chemical and he could kill 100 people in an afternoon. But he would get so much less pleasure out of it if he couldn't watch them, listen to them, be with them as they expired. There would be the satisfaction of imagining it, of hearing about it on the news, but that was so much less than experiencing it in person, seeing the blood, maintaining the contact, feeling the last energy seeping out of the body. It was the same reason he didn't use a gun, or a bomb. It was the reason he usually used a knife. He needed the communion that came from sharing another's last moments.
There was nothing purer than those final moments. Civilization vanished, the mind receded, and all that remained was the primitive, the reptilian corner of the brain that only served only one purpose: To survive. Always when the conscious mind gave up, the unconscious took over and often worked even harder to resist his efforts. It was a display of nature's power, as striking and amazing as watching a lightning storm or a hurricane.
McConnell had been Alex's obsession from the first time the man said in a session, “Sometimes I wish I had the balls to kill myself. It would be so much easier.” Immediately he had accessed the patient's records, called up mp3 files of old counseling sessions from the online database, and begun to do his homework. He visited McConnell's neighborhood in disguise every week, learning the area. The man lived in a rundown home on 102nd, a few blocks east of Greenwood Avenue, in North Seattle. Every night Alex fell asleep listening to McConnell complaining about his miserable life, reveling in the knowledge that he would end the simpering bastard's existence. He never needed to justify his own behavior, but he took smug satisfaction in knowing he would end the life of someone who served so little purpose. He felt the same way when he killed the homeless, as though he were leaving the world somehow better.
As his plans continued to escalate, he began following McConnell, learning his routines. Alex takes advantage of his flexible schedule to do this, working in the early morning and the evening, spending the days with McConnell. He followed the man to the grocery store, to church basements for AA meetings, to the social security office, and to occasional shifts working day labor for a landscaper. McConnell drove an aging Lincoln with bald tires and a cracked rear window. He rarely left the house before noon and often stayed up late watching television.
As he followed his prey around, his fantasies began to escalate. Alex had already determined how he would kill McConnell, he was working out the last details, but his mind ran further afield, scenarios where he would not follow his safe, sensible, cautious plan, but rather extended evenings locked up in McConnell's home with him, leaving in the morning with the man strewn all over the house, nothing but more stains and trash in a home already filled with them. Another fantasy magically added a basement to McConnell's house, where Alex could keep him locked up, dropping by to play whenever he wanted, always strong enough to resist the urge to completely finish the man off, always leaving himself some entertainment for the next day. It was something he would try one day, he knew, regardless of how foolish an idea it was. It was one of his recurring fantasies, right up there with the one where he does his work for a live audience in a theater.
Alex needs to see the inside of the house, to see where he will work, so he breaks into McConnell's home one day after tailing him to work. Lock picking is a skill Alex had to teach himself, but the internet is a spectacular resource for both information and tools. Alex is not naturally talented at lock picking, so he is not fast, but he has learned what he needs to so that he leaves no trace. Once the lock is out of the way, Alex puts on thin leather gloves before he enters the house.
Inside, the house smells like sour milk, but Alex still tingles with delight to be exploring someone's home again. After months of killing animals and the homeless, he's back doing what he truly loves. Learning about people, analyzing their lives, invading their space, making his plans.
McConnell keeps a surprisingly clean home. The unpleasant smell has no source that Alex can determine, and while the bed reains unmade, the bedclothes a pile on the floor by the bed, there is freshly folded laundry on the dryer, and the living room is immaculate, although it is decorated like a set from a 1950's sitcom. A modern flat screen television sits on an ancient console model the size of a refrigerator.
The man keeps surprisingly few personal effects. No mementos, precious few photos, a bare minimum in terms of documents and papers. This is not a home, at least not McConnell's. This is a shelter, a way station, barely a house. It fits the man's mental state, and it fits what Alex has planned for him.
Alex is practically skipping as he makes his way back to his car. He has one more step to take before he takes McConnell, and it's not a step he has to take, but it is an indulgence that he decides he can allow himself. He has been on his best behavior since coming to Seattle, the better part of a year, and he decides to reward himself.
The next day, Alex parks his van in front of McConnell's house, walks up the drive, past the Oldsmobile, and rings the doorbell. He is wearing coveralls and holding a clipboard with several computer printouts on it. His name tag reads 'Martin'. He hears rustling inside and the door opens.
McConnell's hair is mostly white and cropped short. He has two days of gray stubble on his cheeks, but he looks alert and stands up straight, as if working against his round shoulders. He does not look suspicious as much as he looks surprised.
“Mr...uh,” Alex pretends to check his clipboard. Inside he is as giddy as a child on a swing. “McConnell, is that right?”
“Hi, I'm from the county, we've had some reports of black mold in the area and we're just doing a check in the area and making sure folks know what to look for. Do you mind if I ask you a few questions?”
“Go ahead.” McConnell pulls the door open a little wider.
“Have you experienced any unusual headaches or dizziness recently?”
“Not since I stopped drinking,” McConnell says, and lets out a loud bleat of a laugh.
Alex nods and keeps going.
“Do you use a humidifier?”
He asks several more questions, the answers to which he does not care about. He tells McConnell about the King County website set up for black mold questions. Then he asks the big question.
“Would you mind if I came in and took a quick look around, just to be sure?”
McConnell shrugs and opens the door, standing aside for Alex.
“Do you have an attic or a basement?”
“No basement, but there's a crawlspace under the roof.”
“Where do you get in?”
McConnell leads him through the kitchen to a large storage cupboard. He opens the door and shows Alex a hatch. Alex pulls it down, extends the folding ladder and pokes his head up into the crawlspace, shining a flashlight around. As soon as he was out of sight of the older man, he was grinning. He'd just walked right in. Like he belonged here! He should do this more often. Not too often, of course, that would be inviting trouble.
McConnell watches over him while Alex lays down and checks under the sink and in the cupboards. He looks in closets and takes a humidity reading with a gadget he bought for the occasion.
Alex doesn't want to overstay his welcome, so he doesn't stay too long. He thanks the old guy at the door and has him scribble his signature on a form on the clipboard. He repeats the web address for the county's mold information page.
He had to restrain himself from running as he moved back down the driveway to the van. This was the best day ever! He climbed back into the van and headed for home, to revel in his plans for psychologically wounded veteran Robert Lloyd McConnell. Things were only going to get better.